Main image of article H-1B Cap Filled for 2020. Is the Lottery System Broken?
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the cap for H-1B visas has been reached for fiscal year 2020. The H-1B visa program fills rapidly every year, leading some to think the lottery system is broken. The H-1B program will award 65,000 visas to foreign-born tech workers, and the USCIS feels it has enough applications to fill all spots. It only took a few days for the USCIS to feel confident it could award all available visas, which may itself be problematic. Richard Burke, CEO of Envoy Global, thinks the lottery system itself is to blame:
The current H-1B lottery structure propels employers to submit their petitions the exact moment the cap opens to avoid missing the opportunity and having to wait another year. Because there is an overwhelming demand for skilled labor in the U.S., companies wait all year to submit H-1B cap petitions on the day the lottery – ultimately driving the cap to fill quickly.
This wasn’t always the case; the cap used to be higher. In 2004, the cap went from accepting 195,000 to 65,000 petitions. Since 2014, the cap has filled within five days of opening. Burke tells Dice that, over the past five years, the H-1B lottery has received enough applications to fill all 65,000 slots within four days’ time. The program itself has created a land-rush to fill slots. An H-1B visa isn’t all that companies offer foreign-born candidates, either. As an incentive, many firms are offering to sponsor candidates for green cards immediately after coming stateside. Company-paid housing, funded relocation, travel expenses such as a company car, and paid visitation to their country of origin are all perks offered to H-1B candidates. The lottery system itself, which drives companies to apply the second the H-1B portal opens, is perhaps to blame for much of this. It might also power the over-the-top benefits offered H-1B candidates. “The level of perks being offered to foreign national hires, regardless of visa type or home country, speaks to the unprecedented competition for this type of skilled talent as a result of the global skills gap," Burke said. "Green Card sponsorship and dependent sponsorship have become especially important for U.S.-located foreign nationals in order to provide the employees greater stability, security and peace of mind in light of the overall change in political climate and increased scrutiny seen over the last couple of years.” But USCIS might also shift how the lottery works. Under a proposed re-ordering, all applicants (including those with advanced degrees) will enter the annual “general pool” of 65,000 visas. After that, remaining applicants with advanced degrees will enter a 20,000-visa “master’s cap” pool. In theory, applicants with advanced degrees will have two good shots at actually landing a visa under the new system. That's a big change from the current system, in which applicants with advanced degrees enter the “master’s cap” pool, after which the unaccepted remainder enter the “general pool.” But how such a shift may actually impact H-1B candidates (and their sponsor companies) is impossible to determine at this point.